Words shape gendered social-cultural and relational thinking. The expression “harmful practices” is often used to refer to gender-based violence. Using the expression “human rights violations” instead of “harmful practices” enacts a rights-based educational approach.
By verbalizing and visibilizing “practices” – a word that means the usual way of doing things – into a human rights “violation” framework, shifts perceptions. Decoding language and perceptions turns such “practices” into “violations”. This helps remove the misogynistic discrimination and stigmatization women and girls suffer because of gender-blaming or blaming-the-victim that occurs globally.
When we refer to acts of gender-based violence, such as harassment, acid burning and domestic sexualized torture, as “human rights violations” and not merely “harmful practices”, we shift these into the human rights framework. For example, sexualized torture is a violation of Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and of General Recommendation 19/7(b) of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Both state that no one shall be “subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.
Naming the human rights instruments that address the human rights violations delivers these instruments into the awareness of everyday living, immediately introducing people to a rights-based educational experience. This can translate how women and girls think about the violations they suffer, counteracting gender-based discrimination, stigmatization and devaluation as illustrated by an African woman who, after hearing me, a Canadian, talk on non-state torture (NST), said:
“Don’t stop talking … about atrocities that happen to women in your country … which I thought only happened to African women … I thought that there must be something wrong with us … with me as an African woman.”
A rights-based educational approach decodes socio-cultural relational misogynistic cover-ups and challenges the minimization of gender-based violence. For example, in Bangladesh, “eve-teasing” is a coded term that covers up or diminishes misogynistic bullying and harassment of girls, often preventing them from attending school . Using a rights-based approach, “eve-teasing” can be considered a human rights violation under article 19 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Acid burning , and domestic sexualized torture , can be situated as forms of NST under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) thereby claiming women and girls’ human right not to be subjected to torture.
All human rights are women and girls’ human rights – there must not be gender-biased exceptions.
Jeanne Sarson, Canadian Federation
Jeanne Sarson has been a Member-at-Large of the Canadian Federation since 2009. She is a grass root supporter and human rights defender, researcher, published author and educator focused on the human rights violation of non-state torture in the private sphere. With a colleague she manages the website: www.nonstatetorture.org